Last updated on November 2, 2021

Underage DUI/OWI


In Michigan, the law is tough on underage drinking and driving. If you are under the age of 21, have a measurable amount of alcohol in your blood, and are operating a vehicle, the consequences are severe. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 4,300 underage youth die each year from excessive drinking. Even though it is illegal for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol, those aged 12 to 20 years drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States and over 90 percent of the alcohol is consumed while binge drinking. The 2018 Michigan State Report on Underage Drinking Prevention and Enforcement stated that 22 percent of people ages 12 to 20 used alcohol in the past month.

Are You or Your Child Facing an Underage DUI/OWI Charge?

An underage DUI/OWI charge is often a young person’s first encounter with the criminal law system. Being arrested and all of the subsequent legal procedures and hearings probably leave you feeling stressed and confused. An experienced criminal defense attorney can answer your questions and help you navigate the system to achieve the best possible outcome. At Michigan Defense Law, we can defend you every step of the way.

Michigan Underage DUI/OWI Law

Michigan has two laws regarding intoxicated driving. They are OWI, which is operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol (also referred to as DUI), and OWVI, which means operating a vehicle while visibly impaired by drugs or alcohol.

An OWI is defined as operating a vehicle while:

  • Under the influence of alcoholic liquor or controlled substance
  • Having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or greater or
  • Having any amount of controlled substance (illegal drugs) in the body.

However, an OWVI conviction only requires that the driver shows “visible signs of impairment” due to taking in alcohol or drugs.

If you are over the age of 21 and your blood-alcohol level is 0.08 or above, you can be charged with DUI/OWI. The law is more strict for drivers under the age of 21. In those cases, you can be charged if with DUI/OWI if your blood-alcohol level is above 0.02.

To determine whether an underage driver is impaired or intoxicated, police use standard NHTSA field sobriety testing. Even if the driver is able to pass the standard field sobriety testing, if the breathalyzer or blood test detects any amount of alcohol, they can still be charged for OWI.

Many underage drivers are aware that it is legal to drink alcohol at age 19 in Canada. However, they may be unaware that once the driver has traveled back into Michigan, he or she can still be charged with an OWI zero tolerance.

Under the zero-tolerance law, it is a misdemeanor criminal offense for a person under the age of 21 to operate a motor vehicle if the person has “a BAC of 0.02 to 0.07 or any presence of alcohol in your body other than alcohol that is consumed at a generally recognized religious ceremony.”

It is important to note that under Michigan law, drunk driving is called operating while intoxicated. The term “operate” is broader than the term “drive.” The Michigan Motor Vehicle Code defines “operate” or “operating” as “being in actual physical control of a vehicle” whether the person is licensed or not. There have been many cases concerning the meaning of actual physical control. For example, is a person who is asleep or unconscious in actual physical control of the vehicle? Therefore, it is important to tell your attorney all of the details about your arrest.

Potential Penalties for a DUI/OWI Conviction

There are several possible penalties for an underage OWI/DUI in Michigan:

  • For a first offense, a fine of up to $500, up to 360 hours of community service work, or both.
  • For a second or subsequent offense, community service for not more than 60 days, a fine of not more than $500, and/or imprisonment for not more than 93 days.
  • If an underage OWI driver was transporting a passenger under the age of 16, the penalties are even more severe. A first offense will result in 60 days of community service, up to a $500 fine and/or up to 93 days in jail. A subsequent conviction may result in a $200 to $1,000 fine and either five days to one year in jail or 30 to 90 days community service. The driver’s vehicle will be immobilized and possibly forfeited.
  • Suspended driver’s license.
  • Sharply increased car insurance rates.
  • Lost employment, educational opportunities, career choices, or professional ethics reviews.

The type and amount of sentence may vary somewhat, based on a judge’s discretion. The judge may order additional community service hours or an adult education course. In some cases, a minor may be charged with an adult DUI offense, with adult penalties.

Under the OWI Zero Tolerance law, a first-time offender does not face jail time. However, a first-time offender sentence may include:

  • Up to 360 hours of community service
  • A $250 fine

A driver with a second OWI Zero Tolerance offense within seven years faces possible penalties, including:

  • Up to 93 days in jail
  • 60 days of community service
  • A $500 fine

Even a first OWI Zero Tolerance offense may have serious long-term consequences if the driver has any future OWI violations. For example, if a driver over the age of 21 had a past Zero Tolerance conviction and is now charged with OWI, he or she may be charged with OWI second offense.

What Can Your Michigan Underage DUI/OWI Attorney Do for You?

Although the possible penalties may be keeping you awake at night, it is a long road from arrest to completion. Along the way, there are many things your defense attorney can do to defend your case and protect your rights. These may include:

  • A detailed investigation of the circumstances of your case
  • Request a bond reduction if you are incarcerated
  • Review all of the evidence the prosecution has against you
  • Review the in-dash video, if applicable
  • Look for anything that may have skewed the test results
  • Review any sobriety or blood alcohol concentration tests
  • Examine any equipment used in the testing procedures to ensure proper calibration
  • Question witnesses, including the arresting officer

Are You or Your Child Charged With Underage DUI/OWI?

Even if you believe you were not driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the process can be distressing, and it is critical to have the legal counsel you need. You need answers, and you need help: Speak to an experienced OWI defense attorney as soon as possible. Experienced, assertive attorneys can investigate the circumstances of your charges, protect your legal rights, and fight to obtain the best possible outcome for your case.


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